Tropico 4 Modern Times: home, home on the island

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Housing poses one of the most interesting challenges in the base game of Tropico 4. Initially, when money’s tight, most of the downtrodden citizens live in crime-ridden shacks that provide nothing but an incentive to rebel. Upgrading their living conditions is a critical goal, but one with options that provide an interesting series of trade-offs and choices. Do I stuff hordes of my ungrateful workers into cheap low-quality tenements that are just barely good enough to prevent them from shooting me? Do I build dozens of expensive lower occupancy but higher quality apartments? How about condos or mansions for the wealthy and upper-middle class residents, or some combination of these and several other choices?

The net result is often an island whose housing winds up looking pretty realistic, one where grindingly poor neighborhoods stare enviously at the good life that’s just a few unattainable streets away. Towards the end of scenarios where I’m flush with cash and feeling magnanimous, I’ll often demolish the cheaper stop-gap housing that I built to stave off revolution and replace it with higher quality dwellings while basking in the imaginary acclaim of my virtual subjects.

Sadly, the Modern Times expansion eliminates all of the base game’s housing challenges by introducing a single, massively overpowered structure.

After the jump: the only housing building you’ll ever need

The screenshot at the top is centered on a modern apartment block, a building that is as much of a game changer as the biofarm. First available in 1966, modern apartments cost the same $5000 as the apartments they replace and occupy an identical amount of space. Their only drawback is that they require 5 MW of electricity in order to build, but, as the next article in this series will discuss, power production is never really an issue in Modern Times and this minor cost is vastly overcompensated for by their benefits.

The first of these major benefits is that modern apartments house twice as many citizens as their old school counterparts, equal to the cheap, low quality tenement. By building up, not out, they prevent the endless housing sprawl that was the plague of many of my larger Tropican cities, and this is a feature I really like. They’re so tall that they even sport helipads on the roof, though nothing ever lands on them.

Another big plus is the optional doorman kiosk, which costs an additional $1000. Doorman kiosks prevent the building from generating any crime at all, and as modern apartments proliferate across the map, the crime overlay fades into invisibility. Again, this is a nice feature, and if it was the final benefit this building provided, I’d be an enthusiastic fan.

It’s their quality that pushes modern apartments completely over the top. Their base quality is an enormous 75, and adding climate control for another $1000 raises that to 90. Drop a few gardens or attractive buildings nearby and they can easily reach the mid 90’s, a value equal to that of mansions. There’s literally no reason to ever build another type of housing–modern apartments are small, cheap, prevent crime, and house hordes of residents in luxury. Sure, for variety or aesthetic reasons I sometimes construct something else, but the power gamer in me disapproves of the waste inherent in any other residence and my residential zones become totally homogenized. Poor part of town? Modern apartments. Upper middle class area? Modern apartments. Housing for the wealthy? Modern…you get the idea.

The other two new housing buildings are useless. Modern condos cost twice as much as modern apartments, house one third fewer residents, and use more electricity. The reward for these costs? A whopping +5 quality and a slightly smaller footprint. I’ll very occasionally build one on a block that doesn’t have room for anything else, but they’re highly inefficient.

However, their inefficiency pales in comparison to that of the ziggurat (pictured above). These colossi somewhat resemble Sim City 2000’s arcologies in that they’re massive, expensive, and designed to house lots of citizens, but I’m sorry to say that Modern Times got the numbers on the ziggurat completely wrong. Compared to a modern apartment, slightly more than four times as many people can live in one, and their housing quality is about 10 points higher. That sounds fine until you realize that they cost more than 14 times as much as a fully upgraded apartment, use more than 14 times the power, and occupy more than 32 times the space! They’re the whitest of elephants and should never be built for any reason other than scenario requirements.

One other home deserves mention here: el Presidente’s. The old presidential palace can be upgraded to a Presidency once Tropico’s population exceeds 250 and some other, minor goals are met. The Presidency is guarded by six SWAT team members instead of four soldiers — I’ll discuss SWAT in a later article — and otherwise functions identically to the old palace. Its architecture is quite odd, however. Instead of the colonial design used by the palace, the Presidency has a near-eastern look that would look at home in Istanbul or perhaps the Piazza San Marco in Venice but is very out of place in Tropico.

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Next time: nuts and bolts

Dave Markell’s probably been playing games longer than you’ve been alive. While his preferred genres are turn-based strategy and RPG’s, he’ll gladly demonstrate his incompetence at anything.